MILL CREEK — Car horns blew as Fallyn McMillan held up a bright-green poster board, nearly as big as herself, that read in bold purple letters “Students against uniforms.”
The 8-year-old was protesting having to wear a school uniform Wednesday, the first day of the school year, outside of the brand new Tambark Creek Elementary.
In May, the school district announced it would require Tambark Creek students to wear uniforms when the school opened. The decision was made by Principal Celia O’Connor-Weaver and her leadership team.
Two other elementary schools in the district have similar dress codes — Hawthorne and Whittier, both in north Everett. Students at Hawthorne also began to wear uniforms this year. O’Connor-Weaver was that school’s principal before starting at Tambark Creek.
Fallyn, who is in third grade, was set to attend Tambark Creek this year. Instead, her family asked if she could go to her old school, Cedar Wood Elementary, to avoid the strict dress code. The district gave her permission a couple of weeks ago.
One major reason Fallyn and her father, Ian McMillan, decided to protest Wednesday was because of the way the uniform decision was made.
“Even though we were given an opt-out, the way the policy was established, without involving parents, without involving students, and doing it in a manner that gives us no options, no choice, is really the main point,” Ian McMillan said.
Fallyn likes to be creative with her outfits, and was disappointed when she learned of the uniforms.
“Once I heard about it, I’m like, ‘I’m not excited to go to school,’” she said.
Before, she’d been looking forward to joining Tambark Creek.
About 600 children are expected to attend the new school on 180th Street SE, near Bothell and Mill Creek. The campus sits on 11 acres, with wetlands on site for outdoor learning. Classrooms include advanced equipment and are designed to let in natural light. Lessons are planned with a focus on STEM, or science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It’s the Everett district’s first new school in 12 years.
Olivia Toteo’s daughters are attending Tambark Creek, and did not wear uniforms to the first day of school. The girls are both 10, and in fifth grade.
Toteo didn’t feel comfortable making her children wear the khaki, white and navy-blue clothing. Toteo is from Asia, and in her culture those colors are worn during times of mourning.
“We just got here from Asia, and everything (there) is very different, where everything has to be nannied for you,” Toteo said. “That’s why we chose to come to America, to give the children a different perspective.”
They moved to Everett a couple of years ago, in hopes of getting the girls away from those kinds of restrictions.
Toteo requested a new school for the kids, and said the district gave them the option to attend View Ridge Elementary, but didn’t offer bus service. It would be a nearly 30-minute drive from their neighborhood. Toteo works in Seattle, and wouldn’t be able to make the extra trip.
“I have to find a new job to send my kids to school? That’s not right,” she said. “So I’m sticking it out and letting my kids wear no uniform to school and see how things go.”
Jan Radford, on the other hand, believes uniforms can benefit children. Radford works for a before-and-after-school program, and drove a group of students to Tambark Creek for their first day.
She worked as a teacher for two decades in Washington and California, in schools with and without uniforms.
“The value of uniforms is it puts us on the same level economically with every child,” she said.
Radford also believes the dress code will help ease bullying and teach the kids to respect authority.
Everett Public Schools has said that the dress code decision was circulated the same way as all other information.
It said it would work to address any continued behavior without having to turn to disciplinary action. The district also has pledged to help students obtain uniforms.
“As with the opening of any new school, there are some aspects of the school a few people don’t agree with, and we respect their right to voice that opinion,” the district said in a statement. “We believe uniforms are going to be a great benefit to Tambark Creek’s culture and learning environment, and will and have been communicating with families that disagree with the dress code.”
Back on a sidewalk near the Tambark Creek entrance on Wednesday, Fallyn McMillan wore dark shorts and a white shirt with red, blue and yellow paint splatters, along with a plaid flannel shirt tied around her waist.
After a morning of protesting, she loaded into her father’s car. It was time to go to school.